John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #99
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
"Mardi Gras Mystery" was published in the September 1, 1935 issue of The Shadow Magazine. From the colorful, exciting, traditional festivities of the Mardi Gras arises a baffling mystery for The Shadow to solve.
It’s a fun Shadow mystery, but it suffers from some plotting issues. I liked the locations and the puzzling mystery. But when all is explained, I found the explanation to be unlikely, in the extreme. Gangsters have gone to strange and convoluted lengths to accomplish something that could have been done so much easier in a straightforward manner. But, of course, then we would have had no story... or at least a much abbreviated one. So the end result is that I felt a bit cheated by the story. It was a fun ride, but in the end I was let down.
Our story opens during Mardi Gras as a young man costumed as a French colonial gentleman stolls along the Rue Royale. Beneath the mask, the young man is Andrew Blouchet, last of an old Louisiana family. Young Andrew lives on a small inheritance, but finds it harder and harder to make ends meet. But all that is about to change. And change in a most mysterious way!
As he passes Gallion’s restaurant, Blouchet encounters another masked reveler. She wears a short-skirted ballet dress. He doesn’t know who she is, but is drawn by her magnetic beauty. She comes up to him holding a flat, black box that glistens with polish. The corners and hinges are of silver. She hands him the box, telling him, “Here is the box. Keep it hidden until you are alone.”
Young Blouchet is understandably confused. He denies any knowledge of the box or its ownership, but the young lady insists. She hands him a small silver key, oddly shaped and curious in design. She tells him he will understand all when he opens the box. But the box must be opened secretly in private. Before he can object further, she mingles with the Mardi Gras crowd and disappears.
His interest piqued, Andrew Blouchet slides the mystery box beneath his cloak and makes his way back to his studio in the quaint French Quarter. There he opens the box and finds to his surprise that it contains one hundred thousand dollars in various demonination bills. And that is all. There is no note of explanation. Only the strange stack of bank notes. Fifties. One hundreds. Five hundreds! And even one thousand dollar bills!
He confides in his wealthy friend Carl Randon. Randon, another native of New Orleans, advises him to spend the money. There is no link to the owner of the box. And since it was given to Blouchet, it certainly is his to now spend. But young Blouchet isn’t so sure. And it’s a good thing, too, because before he knows it, his apartment is raided by a gang of cutthroats seeking the money. He fights them off, only to find that the money as disappeared. It has been taken... by The Shadow!
Yes, The Shadow is in New Orleans, and enters this strange case. He is assisted by his long-time agent Harry Vincent. Harry was previously sent to New Orleans to locate Pierre Trebelon who had recently left New York. Trebelon was an international swindler who had left for Louisiana, with Harry following at The Shadow’s order. Now The Shadow has entered New Orleans to see what connection there might be between the swindler Trebelon and the money given to Andrew Blouchet.
The money seems to be the key. Who is it from? What is it for? Why was young Blouchet chosen to receive it? What will he do with it? Is the money counterfeit? Is it legal tender? Is it blackmail money? Blood money? And who was the mystery woman who handed young Andrew the strange box of money? What part does she play? Will Andrew find her? Is he falling in love? Is she part of the sinister plot? Is this a fatal attraction? Or will their budding love blossom beneath the evil spell of the mystery cash? Young Andrew Blouchet is quickly drawn into a strange web of intrigue, excitement, and murder; one from which only The Shadow can extricate him!
The Shadow and Harry Vincent work alone in this story. No other agents appear or are mentioned. The side of the law is represented by Lieutenant Wayson of the New Orleans police force. Wayson is a police instructor and small-arms expert who worked with The Shadow in a previous adventure, “Cyro” published in December 15, 1934. These are the only two appearances Wayson ever made in the magazine stories.
The Shadow appears in several disguises in this story. His oft-used disguise as Lamont Cranston serves him well on several occasions. But he also appears as an artist, Monsieur Duvale, and as Justin Oswood, a big-time New York theatrical producer. And also Pierre Treblon, a gang member who looks to better himself. And of course he appears in his most famous garb of black: the cloak, slouch hat and gloves.
One note of interest, we are told that Harry Vincent is an opera buff. It’s just a casual remark, but one that was new to me. I’d never before heard that opera was one of his diversions. And so we learn a little bit more about The Shadow’s number-one agent!
There is color and romance in this adventure mystery; there danger and crime. Crime is pending in New Orleans, betrayed only through surface indications which The Shadow alone had detected. Only the superhand of The Shadow can bring it to a smashing finish. So read the story, but be aware that the ending will undoubtedly leave you a bit disappointed and unfulfilled.
"City of Fear" was published in the October 15, 1940 issue of The Shadow Magazine. Men of society committed heinous crimes, yet they were innocent. In this carnival of crime and mystery, it was The Shadow who played the role of barker!
This is a fun whirlwind of action and adventure written by alternate Shadow author Theodore Tinsley. But as with so many of Tinsley’s efforts, it has its flaws. If you are swept up in the thrill ride, you may overlook these weaknesses. But if you stop to examine the tale too closely, you will notice plot holes and inconsistencies. So just enjoy the ride and don’t think back over the plot and ask too many questions. If you can do that, you’ll really enjoy this mile-a-minute Shadow adventure.
In the midwest city called, appropriately enough, Western City, there is a fear created by crime, and the men who are being framed for them. Martin Black swears he didn’t kill Howard Nixon, president of the Prairie Savings Bank. But someone crushed Nixon’s skull with a bar of steel. And that someone looked mighty like Martin Black. And Black’s alibi turns out to be false. So what is the law to think?
Alice Gunther, the pretty niece of the accused Martin Black is convinced he’s innocent. “If only The Shadow were here,” she moans. Determined to seek the aid of The Shadow, she has a newspaper friend print a story seeking his help.
The Shadow sends Clyde Burke to Western city to cover the developments of the case. He meets in New York with Martin Black’s friend, Roger Dodd. Dodd is Western City’s wealthiest contractor. Dodd’s behavior is suspicious enough to send The Shadow to Western City himself.
Once in Western City, The Shadow must sift the clues to determine who’s behind the crimes. And more crimes occur, right under The Shadow’s nose! Including the impersonation of The Shadow himself. The mastermind behind the entire scheme is a master of disguise. He can appear as anyone, even The Shadow.
As The Shadow, the villain trades tips with Joe Cardona. Again disguised as The Shadow, the evil criminal identifies himself to agent Harry Vincent using a duplicate ring containing a fire opal. Harry is captured. Then the fake Shadow apparently rescues Harry from the clutches of the “other” Shadow, all in an effort to worm secrets from him.
Will the sinister hidden mastermind be successful? Can The Shadow rip away the various masks and reveal the true identity of the criminal genius? It seems impossible, but luckily that’s what our hero accomplishes. And you’ll enjoy reading how.
Assisting The Shadow in this story are contact-man Burbank, long-time agent Harry Vincent, newspaper-reported Clyde Burke, hackie Moe Shrevnitz, investment broker Rutledge Mann and pilot Miles Crofton. Inspector Joe Cardona of the New York Police Department appears early in the story. No other familiar forces of the law appear after that, however.
The Shadow appears in disguise Richard Belton, an advance agent for a traveling dance orchestra, in this story. And most often, he appears as Lamont Cranston. But it’s a wimpy Cranston who pleads for mercy in a terrified voice, who utters a high-pitched scream, who trembles when revived, and who claims the crime is a subject on which he knows absolutely nothing. Most unlike the amateur criminologist Cranston who appeared before and after this story. Certainly not the nerves-of-steel Cranston who is a big-game hunter.
It makes one think that this story might not have been written by Walter Gibson. And when you read the devilish murder of a helpless woman, you just KNOW it couldn’t be Gibson doing the writing. He never killed women, helpless or not. It’s no surprise, then, that Theodore Tinsley was the author of this story. And it should be no surprise when you read the torture scene where Harry Vincent’s flesh is seared by a glowing poker.
This was the fifteenth of Theodore Tinsley’s twenty-seven Shadow novels. It’s pretty obvious, when reading his brutal depiction of death: “the slug tunneled downward through the thug’s chest and ripped out near the base of the spine. It left a hole the size of a man’s palm.” This more lurid style was definitely Tinsley, not Gibson.
Tinsley was inordinately fond of railroads and often worked trains into his stories. In this tale, several chapters take place on a train, and there is a climactic scene where the a trestle is blown up and the train plunges to its doom. It’s a sign of Tinsley.
Some of Tinsley’s other trademarks are missing from this story. No underground tunnels or caverns. No women villains. No titillation. It seems Tinsley was a bit more restrained this time. But it’s still easy to identify as a Tinsley story, nonetheless.
A few more Tinsley touches: The Shadow doesn’t simply tie up a captured thug; he cleverly loops the bonds so that if the gorilla stuggles he will strangle to death. When Harry Vincent is framed for murder, The Shadow removes the incriminating bullet from the victim in a gruesome operation with a knife.
One thing that Tinsley consistently got right, was The Shadow’s black gloves. Gibson often overlooked them when describing The Shadow. Tinsley, on the other hand, always remembered that the black gloves completed the shielding of The Shadow in darkness.
In this story, we see another of The Shadow’s inventions. This looks like a portable typewriter in a traveling case. But inside, it’s an efficient, battery-operated listening device. Some type of amplifier with headphones for hearing conversations in another room.
Oh, and Clyde Burke smokes. I don’t think that was established in any other Shadow story, although the fact that Lamont Cranston smokes was mentioned occasionally. But here, we are told that Clyde also smokes his cigarettes. Interesting.
One thing did catch my attention. In this story, The Shadow uses the girasol stone from his ring to cut through a glass window pane. This is something that Tinsley used in a few of his other Shadow stories, including “Partners of Peril” and “Foxhound.” In real life, that wouldn’t work as easily as it does when a diamond cuts glass. A diamond is much harder than glass. A girasol, however, is only slightly harder. It would almost be like trying to cut through a stick of butter with another stick of butter... maybe a slightly refrigerated stick. Possible, but not easily done.
There were some things that annoyed me in the story. In this pulp mystery, the master criminal has somehow identified Lamont Cranston as being The Shadow. But we aren’t told how. He knows a lot of things about The Shadow that he really shouldn’t be able to know, and this is never explained. He knows that Clyde Burke and Harry Vincent are agents of The Shadow. And he knows that The Shadow identifies himself to his agents with his girasol ring. Did he prepare himself in advance by doing some research on The Shadow? Doubtful, because he was in a midwest city far from New York, and had no reason to suspect that The Shadow would show up. So one weakness of this story is that the master criminal’s unique knowledge of The Shadow is never explained.
Early in the story, Martin Black’s alibi fails, when officials can’t find the farmhouse and the man he claims to have visited. Much is made of this. It isn’t just a passing comment. It’s a major plot point. But then it is later completely forgotten and we never find out how the farmhouse was made to disappear. It’s a nagging plot thread that needed to be explained.
Another unexplained occurrence is that the train robbers steal the gold from the freight car, then replace the seals. There’s absolutely no reason to do this. Once the gold is gone, there’s no need to try to hide it or fool anyone into believing it’s still there. Yet Tinsley makes it seem important that the seals on the doors are replaced with counterfeit seals. It’s brought up several times, so is seemingly important. But nothing is ever explained about why it’s important.
One of the things that annoys me the most is when the master villain’s carefully laid out scheme depends upon a totally random and unexpected event. If that event hadn’t happened, the whole scheme would have failed. Roger Dodd is impersonated and then a thug who survived the train wreck trails him back to his hotel room and he kills the real Dodd. This is exactly what the master criminal wanted to happen. But how did he know that there would be a survivor? And how did he know the survivor would see the fake Roger Dodd and track him back to his hotel room? Somehow, these carefully laid plans don’t look so carefully laid, when you go back and examine them. That’s a frequent weakness in Tinsley’s stories. But usually the stories move at such a breakneck pace that the reader doesn’t have a chance to keep track of these things.
Even with these weaknesses, I really did like this story. Watch The Shadow battle a wizard at disguise; a criminal with a marvelous ability to assume the identity of any person he chooses. The story is a touch more lurid and “pulpish” than the usual Walter Gibson fare. But if you’re a pulp fan, I think you’ll enjoy this story of an unknown supercriminal who turns the ordinary peaceful locality of Western City into a swamp of suspicion and terror.
John Olsen was first introduced to The Shadow in the early 1960's, tuning in to rebroadcasts of his adventures on KEX radio in Portland, Oregon. Several years later, John was drawn to a hardback book entitled "The Weird Adventures of The Shadow," containing three Shadow novels reprinted from the old pulp magazines. The pulp Shadow was a far different character from the beloved radio version, but the stories drew him in and opened his eyes to a richer version of the hero. Today, John is retired in Sherwood, Oregon. He has read all 325 of the old Shadow pulp mysteries and enjoys them so much that, as of this writing, he is well over half way through reading them all again for a second time.